Publication / Source: Neuro Central
Authors: Tom Naughton, UCL Cancer Institute (London, UK)
Consciousness is a famously tricky concept, and definitions of it vary. At a very basic level, though, it could be described as a sense. Or, rather, a variety of sensations.
At its heart, consciousness is a tool that helps our species, and many others, to survive. We use it to understand changes in our environment and respond to them appropriately. And it has developed as we have, helping us to respond to more complex problems as time goes on. As a result, our species prospered.
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Consciousness is also an energy-intensive process, so every species has to strike a balance between activity and rest. And so, as darkness falls at the end of the day, we shut down our conscious brain.
When we sleep, we lose consciousness to such an extent that eventually only the strongest stimuli can wake us. And fighting the sleep impulse is generally a losing battle. Sure, we can use chemicals that delay the urge to sleep – everyone is familiar with the stimulating effects of caffeine, for instance. But even caffeine loses its effect. No matter how much you try, eventually nature will get the better of you, and you will drop off.